Taste Tibet is sort of a local legend. The cuisine is that of co-owner Yeshi Jampa, who was born and raised in rural Tibet. Before opening its doors just off Cowley Road, Taste Tibet made a name with its food stalls, serving up its famed momo dumplings alongside fresh curries.
During the pandemic, they offered delivery service of their food around Oxford, and they did and still do regularly donate freezer meals to Oxford Community Kitchen.
Now they have an award-winning cookbook and have been featured widely in the media. Continued success can water down a restaurant with pretension. But having visited their restaurant a few weeks ago, I can say with confidence that authentic, delicious and fresh food at affordable prices is still very much their top priority.
They do not take reservations but promise to find a place for you upon arrival. The restaurant is relaxed and cosy, all warm-toned wood and soft lighting, and designed to accommodate varying numbers with the primary seating being wide, long wooden benches throughout that can be used to seat either a group or several sets of diners. Tall bar stools and small tables are tucked into corners too.
The momos - steamed wheat dumplings with either meat or a vegetable filling, are perhaps Taste Tibet’s most famous offering, and for a good reason. The whole wheat dough has a surprising bite to it. In contrast with the edible cloud that is a Japanese Bao, and the delicate softness of Chinese jiaozi dumpling dough, Momo has got flavour and texture that rises to meet its aromatic and unctuous filling. We ordered a mixed plate of the Heavenly Vegan and Big Beef momos (4/£8 or 8/£14 - I’d recommend 4 as a starter or side, or 8 as a main). Beneath the flavoursome dough, the beef momo did not disappoint. A juicy puck of seasoned minced beef, studded with herbs, forms the filling. The vegan momo - a collection of fresh herbs and leafy veg bundled into the dough - meanwhile, was exhilarating in its freshness: if ‘green’ had a taste, this would be it. Like a fresh-cut lawn after a rainstorm, in the best possible way.
The momos were served with a scattering of leaves, a small bowl of soy for dipping, and a daub of freshly blitzed tomato and garlic sauce on top, a zingy confection that sliced through the richness of the dough beautifully.
momos photo courtesy of Taste Tibet
Once we’d made quick work of those, my friend and I then grabbed both the Vegan and Meat Feasts for One option (£14/£15, respectively), each consisting of a plateful of two signature dishes, plus Tibetan Dal, and a scoop of Basmati rice, and a momo. Additional greens can be added for £2, so we tried the Stir-fried Broccoli with Garlic as well, and some Homemade Tibetan Flatbreads (£4) on the side. It is worth noting that Taste Tibet does swap out some dishes weekly to keep things interesting, so the options may be slightly different each visit - but the structure and pricing remains the same.
Larger portions of individual dishes are also available to purchase on their own, for between £6-10 a piece. Our Meat Feast came with servings of Taste Tibet Famous Chicken Curry and Tibetan Keema (seasoned mince and peas). Ironically, the chicken curry was the least impressive dish for us personally, while the sauce had pleasing depth and flavour, the chicken lacked tenderness. The keema, however, took the often humble ingredients of peas and mince and made them into a deeply comforting, morish celebration of flavour.
The Vegan Feast, meanwhile, came with Green Tofu Curry and Spinach and Chickpea Curry.
Both were perfectly cooked, but the tofu in particular had a satisfying spring to each pillowy square. The slight bite to it perfectly complemented the familiar coolness of the lemongrass and lime in the green curry sauce.
The flatbreads were deliciously inconspicuous, tender and blissfully oven-warm vehicles for heaping curry onto. The stir-fried broccoli and garlic were also so good they made a persuasive case for vegetables being cravings-worthy.
Across the board, the dishes were filling but not heavy, and while they were delicious, they were not manipulatively morish in the way some carb and butter-dense restaurant meals go: where you find yourself compulsively shovelling it in, even when the little endorphin explosions are offering diminishing returns. Despite having starters and a generous main course, my friend and I left feeling refreshed and nourished, ready for an evening stroll.
Taste Tibet also still sells pre-prepared fridge and freezer meals in their shops, which seem like a lovely, nourishing thing to have on hand. Move over Leon: this is truly delicious, healthy ‘fast food’.
It’s perplexing that thanks to the rising prices of, well, everything, a large McDonald’s meal would work out to roughly the same cost as a dinner here. Of course, Taste Tibet could choose to inflate the price of their excellent food, but the very reasonable cost seems to reflect genuine community spirit. They want to provide a delicious and affordable dinner out, available to all. I’ll definitely be going back.